So first an apology. My match reports are usually written within moments of the final whistle. For various reasons, yesterday that wasn’t the case, so the report isn’t quite as in-depth or detailed.
Secondly, a bit of perspective. Given the December that we have endured, there were two priorities: First to score a goal, and second to win. In his pre-match press conference, Dean Smith spoke of an improvement in the Covid and injury situation and that during the week they had managed some 8 v 8 games in training. When assessing this performance, these must be at the forefront of your mind.
The team selection was clearly made with the aim of preserving players for the main course of Premier League action coming up mid-week, with perhaps a side salad of trying to build some confidence in certain players. Josh Sargent was selected as the central striker.
The game started fairly sedately. City managed some decent possession down the right – Byram and Dowell combining well on several occasions. Bizarrely, the final delivery was consistently overhit, whichever player delivered the ball. So much so that it attracted the comment from my son as to whether they were using a different ball to usual.
If this was the case, the Charlton players didn’t seem to notice. They delivered s string of threatening crosses into the Norwich box. They were defended without conviction, but there was at least a determination to the defending. Giannoulis was having a tricky time with former City youth product Jaiyesimi, and assistance from his countryman Tzolis was in short supply.
Charlton grew into the half and by mid-way through they were beginning to have more and more possession. When City did get forward, and lost the ball, Charlton were quick to hit on the break.
At halftime, Dean Smith made three changes. On came Pukki, Rashica and Williams; off went Tzolis, Dowell and Giannoulis. Even though it took City 10 minutes to make an impact on the second half, the effect of these changes was noticeable. Williams more physical, robust style effectively neutralized the Charlton threat down the right. In front of him, Rashica picked up from where he left off pre-injury and played one sumptuous ball to play Sargent in. The American took a touch to create a shooting angle…..and then ran round in circles and lost the ball.
So, Sargent. The Charlton strikers were everything that City’s summer signing wasn’t. They battled, made a nuisance of themselves, won balls in the air and took shots whenever a half chance presented itself. Sargent did none of these things. Every time an aerial ball was played forward, the gap between him and the centre-back was clearly visible. He got nowhere near a ball in the air all game. The half-chance created by Rashica would, for almost any other striker, have resulted in a shot on goal. Sargent is so woefully short of confidence.
Kabak is another whose flaws are readily apparent. He repeatedly over-committed himself to headers, tackles and interceptions. He then either failed to win the ball, or won it but in doing so, gave the ball straight to a Charlton player. Charlton then broke quickly, bypassing him and gaining an overload as a result.
City were creating some chances though, Lees-Melou, Rashica and Mclean all having decent efforts either saved or going just off target. The City midfield, shorn of media darling Gilmour, looked like what it was. A trio who had never played together before. Sorensen, who looked so settled when thrown in at left-back or centre-back, bizarrely looked less comfortable in his supposed natural position. McLean always looks better when played in a more advanced role and Lees-Melou battled well at times. There were still those bizarre moments when players went for the same ball, or passed into space.
With Farke, we had a definite way of playing, a style. Under Smith, so far, this is not evident. He has clearly instructed the players to get the ball forward more quickly, but at times this seems to sit uneasily with the personnel on the pitch – evidence perhaps of those covid-truncated training sessions.
Dean Smith may well be pleased then that the goal, when it eventually came, was a result of more direct play. Krul played it out to Sargent on halfway, he laid it to McLean who released a super ball into the path of Pukki. The Finn dragged players wide to the near post before squaring the ball for Rashica to tap in.
Hopefully, this isn’t the only entrant for January’s goal of the month.
What was pleasing is that the City players clearly wanted to score more; the recently arrived Aarons having a great chance saved. But City all of a sudden played with a swagger, playing quick accurate passes. What wonders a bit of confidence can weave.
The last laugh nearly went to Charlton though. Keeper Henderson took a free-kick into the City box causing chaos, resulting in a header bouncing off the crossbar.
So back to that perspective. City won. Ask Newcastle, ask Arsenal about that. At times, they played like strangers. At times they looked like a team without an identity and if they played like this against a Premier League side, the result would have been different. But it wasn’t. It was a win, albeit undeserved at times. But that matters no more.
The effect of scoring the goal was palpable. The result will have done no harm to City’s prospects come mid-week.